Marshall, Ill. — Along with cigarette smoke, change was in the air inside the Corner Tavern on Wednesday afternoon.
Just as Tom Keefer sat down to eat a stacked cheeseburger and fries, bartender Tina McSchooler gave him some startling news.
“Going smoke-free, January 1,” she told him.
Keefer lit up a cigarette and shook his head.
McSchooler was referring to a decision by the Illinois Legislature to ban smoking in virtually all public indoor places, starting Jan. 1, 2008. The Illinois House overwhelmingly approved the ban 73-42 on Tuesday. A month earlier, the Senate OK’d it by a 34-23 vote. All that’s needed now is a signature from Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who says he “enthusiastically” supports the ban.
That means there will be no smoking in bars, restaurants, private clubs and most businesses.
As with any other cultural change in America, some people like it and some don’t.
The benefits seem so compellingly clear. An estimated 2,900 Illinois residents die each year from exposure to secondhand smoke, according to legislative supporters of the ban and health organizations such as the American Lung Association. People looking to grab a drink at a tavern won’t leave smelling charred. Employees and customers can work, dine and drink without breathing unwanted smoke — a right that trumps the rights of people to light up, say the ban’s supporters. Folks will be healthier, and maybe the economy’s health-care burdens will lighten.
Yet, change will come hard for many.
Keefer, a 38-year-old Marshall resident, can accept the ban on smoking in restaurants. But a smoke-free Corner Tavern is another matter.
“Restaurants, I don’t mind,” he said. “I’ll respect nonsmokers’ opinions there. But in a bar atmosphere, nobody’s making you enter the doors, so you’re subjecting yourself to it.”
Unlike 44 Illinois communities that already have local no-smoking ordinances, this concept will be new to Marshall. One reason for the statewide ban is to “level the playing field” for restaurants, bars and businesses in towns with smoking controls. Patrons, they contend, would drive to eat or drink in nearby towns without ordinances.
The statewide ban should remedy that situation inside Illinois’ borders. But neighboring states such as Iowa and, yes, Indiana don’t have state smoking prohibitions. Indiana’s Legislature scrapped a last-minute attempt at a ban before adjourning last week.
So would Keefer drive to Terre Haute if Illinois restaurants and bars indeed go smoke-free?
“Sure would,” he said.
Indiana, with one of the nation’s highest smoking rates, may only benefit briefly if Hoosier lawmakers pass their own statewide ban during the next legislative session.
In the meantime, Keefer and others say they may take their business across the border.
Jeff Behrens, a 31-year-old Marshall resident, shared a cigarette and lunch with Donna Sanders, 26, also of Marshall, on Wednesday in the smoking section of the Marshall Family Restaurant on Archer Avenue. Behrens opposes Illinois’ ban on smoking in bars and restaurants and said he would trek to Indiana instead.
“I would do it, just for the simple purpose of doing it” to prove a point, he said.
A few booths over, 20-year-old Abe Macke and 21-year-old Katelyn Nash, both of Marshall, munched on salads in the smoking section, but didn’t light up. She smokes. He doesn’t. Both oppose the ban.
“Smokers, it gives me a headache, but whatever,” Macke said. “If people want to smoke, it’s their right.”
In the non-smoking section of the restaurant in an adjoining room, separated by a wall and an open door, the prospect of a smoke-free state had some supporters. Dorothea Bland and Mary Powers pointed out that in many businesses, separated sections don’t necessarily mean protection from secondhand smoke, just as a U.S. Surgeon General report showed in 2006.
“What used to bother me is, when you ask for non-smoking, they put you right next to an area that is smoking,” said Powers, 86, and a resident of Dennison, Ill.
“For years, we’ve been the ones that had to suffer — the ones that didn’t smoke,” she added.
Across Archer Avenue is Bishop’s Cafe, a diner that went smoke-free two Decembers ago. Owner Sandra Bishop said only three regular customers left and new patrons offset that loss. “I didn’t lose any business,” she said.
Still, Bishop isn’t endorsing the statewide law. “For me, it was a good choice,” she said. “For somebody else, I don’t know if it’s a good choice.”
At lunch Wednesday, the cafe was nearly full.
The crowd included Richard Lee, who drove from Terre Haute to eat lunch with his sister-in-law, Marie Gaines, who is Bishop’s mother. Lee, 85, once was a three-packs-a-day smoker who has long since quit that habit, yet “I don’t give anybody hell for smoking,” he said. Lee likes the statewide ban in Illinois, and would like to see Indiana do the same thing.
“They can go outside and smoke,” Lee said. “It’s not good for you. They’ve proved that.”
On Wednesday, the guy standing outside the Bishop’s Cafe door was nonsmoker Warren Dawson. The 77-year-old former pastor from Marshall had just finished lunch and was waiting for a light rain to subside before heading to his car.
Dawson lives with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which involves chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
“I’m all in favor of [the statewide ban],” he said. “I have COPD and have never smoked, and doctors have told me I probably got it from being in restaurants and other places that had smoking.”
Mark Bennett can be reached at email@example.com or (812) 231-4377.
Marshall, Ill. — Along with cigarette smoke, change was in the air inside the Corner Tavern on Wednesday afternoon.
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